Good news for publishers and advertisers fearing the GDPR

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is the world’s most heavily weaponized law protecting personal privacy. It is aimed at companies that track people without asking, and its ordnance includes fines of up to 4% of worldwide revenues over the prior year.

The law’s purpose is to blow away the (mostly US-based) surveillance economy, especially tracking-based “adtech,” which supports most commercial publishing online.

The deadline for compliance is 25 May 2018, just a couple hundred days from now.

There is no shortage of compliance advice online, much of it coming from the same suppliers that talked companies into harvesting lots of the “big data” that security guru Bruce Schneier calls a toxic asset. (Evidence: search for gdpr+compliance and see what advertising and SEO surfaces in the results.)

There is, however, an easy and 100% GDPR-compliant way for publishers to continue running ads and for companies to continue advertising. All the publisher needs to do is agree to this request from readers:

That request, along with its legal and machine-readable expressions, will live here:

The agreements themselves can be recorded anywhere.

There is not an easier way for publishers and advertisers to avoid getting fined by the EU for violating the GDPR. Agreeing to exactly what readers request puts publishers, advertisers and intermediaries in full compliance.

Here’s some bonus PR for advertisers: running what we might call #SafeAds: ones not based on tracking us.

If markets really are conversations (as marketers have been yakking about since The Cluetrain Manifesto), #SafeAds will be a great GDPR-compliant conversation for everyone to have:

Here are some other #SafeAd benefits that will make great talking points, especially for publishers and advertisers:

  1. #SafeAds actually sponsor publishers. While adtech tracks eyeballs off a publisher’s site and then shoots ads at those eyeballs anywhere they can be found (including the Web’s cheapest and shittiest sites), #SafeAds say “we value this publication and the readers it brings to us.”
  2. #SafeAds carry no operational overhead for publishers and no cognitive overhead for readers. Because there are no worries for either party about where an ad comes from or what it’s doing behind the scenes.
  3. #SafeAds carry no fraud or malware, because they can’t. They go straight from the publisher or its agency to the publication, avoiding the corrupt four-dimensional shell game adtech has become.
  4. #SafeAds carry full-power creative and economic signals. Which adtech can’t do at all, for the reasons just listed.
  5. #SafeAds build and support brands. Nearly every major brand you can name was made by #SafeAds, while a $trillion or more has been spent on adtech without producing a single one. Insted adtech has an ugly history of hurting brands by annoying people with advertising that is unwelcome, icky, associated with icky things, or some combination of those.
  6. #SafeAds encourage and support journalism. While adtech encourages and supports content production at all costs, including journalism itself.
  7. #SafeAds restore creative to its rightful place as advertising’s chief virtue. Thus threshing adtech’s chaff from advertising’s wheat.
  8. Advertisers will pay more for #SafeAds. Because those ads are worth more. (See #5 above.)

#NoStalking and #SafeAds can also benefit social media platforms now in a world of wonder and hurt (example: this Zuckerberg hostage video). The easiest thing for them to do is go freemium, with little or no ads (and only safe ones on the paid side, and nothing but #SafeAds on the free side, in obedience to #NoStalking requests, whether expressed or not.

If you’re a publisher, an advertiser, a developer, an exile from the dysfunctions driving talent from the ad business, or anybody else who wants to help out, contact me. (I’m firstname at lastname dot com) That deadline is a hard one, it’s coming fast—and what could be more useful and fun than saving both publishing and advertising in one move?


Originally published at blogs.harvard.edu on September 3, 2017.

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